Addiction Myths vs. Facts

Most of what the average American knows about addiction is rooted in discrimination and stereotypes. The shame and social disapproval associated with addiction are greater than for any other medical illness.

Stereotypes can show up anywhere: In movies and on the TV news, in our classrooms and workplaces, even in our homes. And these stereotypes aren’t just hurtful and untrue: They directly contribute to the stigma that prevents people in need from getting treatment.

Here are some common myths about addiction. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Myth: "Addiction only happens to certain kinds of people."

Fact: Addiction can happen to anyone, no matter their race, upbringing, personality type, or grade point average. There are genetic, social, and psychological risk factors that can put some people at greater risk—but addiction has nothing to do with a person’s character.

Myth: "Addiction is a choice! Kids should just say no."

Fact: No one, whether they’re a teen or an adult, chooses how their brain will react to substances. The majority of American teenagers report they’ve tried alcohol, and many experiment with other drugs, too. There are effective ways to prevent drug use and addiction—but "just saying no” doesn't really do that.

Myth: "People with addiction are all criminals."

Fact: Most of the time, the only person directly harmed by an addiction is the person who’s addicted. Yet millions of people are in jail or prison right now just because they struggle with substance use.

Myth: "People with addiction need tough love. Helping them just enables drug use."

Fact: Showing love and support are never bad things. Boundaries and self-care are important, but lifesaving interventions should never be denied out of an impulse to teach someone a lesson. Not only is it cruel, but it’s ineffective. Addiction is an illness.

Myth: "Addiction medications are just replacing one addiction with another."

Fact: Medications for addiction treatment (MAT), especially for opioid use disorder, have been proven to save lives and substantially improve recovery rates. For people in treatment for substance use disorders, medications ease withdrawal symptoms to give people the space they need to recover and prevent overdoses. Medications don’t create a high or cause impairment—they allow patients to work, drive, care for their families, and live full lives.

Myth: "People with addiction are hopeless."

Fact: People can and do recover from addiction every single day. In fact, millions of Americans are thriving in recovery right now. We just don’t hear their stories as often. Once treatment begins, someone with a substance use disorder can move on to manage their illness, just as they would any other chronic illness. With the right treatment, recovery is possible for everyone.